Even after the hung jury and then the new trial being delayed, Jane Scott Gaughran said she at least took comfort that the woman accused of killing her cousin Holly Barnett remained in jail.
However, now that the Jackson County Prosecutor's Office concluded it could not refile charges due to a technicality that amounts to double jeopardy, Courtney Hackney is a free woman as of last Friday.
Hackney, 35, was charged in May 2017 with second-degree murder in the beating death of Barnett, 57, at Barnett's home on Walnut Avenue in Independence. Barnett was found dead in a recliner with a bloody aluminum baseball bat next to it.
Hackney had gone through a mental evaluation and stood trial in December 2018, but Circuit Judge Marco Roldan declared a mistrial after the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. Looking back, Gaughran said, she wonders how well some jury members listened during the case.
“We're all kind of shocked,” Gaughran said of Barnett's family. “We'd been following the case. The hung jury, that shocked us all, because all the evidence was there, and we were waiting for it to go back. We were hopeful.”
Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker's office released a statement Thursday evening to detail the case timeline and explain its conclusion.
When prosecutors moved to reset the case for a second trial in February, scheduling conflicts with Hackney's public defender and then state witnesses nixed two new trial dates and put a third one in limbo.
Prosecutors say they then understood they could voluntarily dismiss the case and refile it without prejudice. The defense did not object, prosecutors say, but Hackney “did not affirmatively consent.” A new trial date of Sept. 3 was set. Shortly before that date, though, prosecutors determined the medical examiner would be unavailable, as he had moved out of state and wasn't able to travel back for the trial.
Prosecutors intended to dismiss and refile again, but after deeper review determined that because the case had been dismissed and not continued, and that Hackney did not “affirmatively consent” to refiling, then refiling would amount to double jeopardy.
In its statement, the prosecutor's office called the dismissal a “legally complex and very difficult resolution to a criminal case.”
“It is far from satisfying when a procedural rule prevents a family from obtaining a final jury verdict,” the statement continued, in part. “The office has great sympathy for the victim's family and have been in communication with them throughout this process. Our sympathy goes out to them.”
According to court documents when charges were filed, a witness who lived with Barnett said she came home to a locked door and Hackney answered. After finding Barnett, the witness escaped Hackney's clutches and called police, who found Hackney in a nearby cemetery. Hackney claimed to police that Barnett was her aunt.
Another witness said Hackney had threatened him with a bat and then said she was going to a relative's house to “claim what is mine” by using that bat and that she was a “demon” who wanted revenge on her enemies.
Gaughran said from what she knows, Hackney was homeless and Barnett, who was physically disabled, extended a helping hand.
“Holly was somebody that had a good heart and let her stay there,” Gaughran said, noting that during the original trial Hackney showed no expression when shown photos of the crime scene. “If you can do something that brutal to someone who has helped you, and show no remorse, there has to be something mentally wrong with her.”
Gaughran said this case not only affects her family, but the community as well.
“Who is in danger because of her now?” she wonders. “It's a very sad situation.”